Aunt Helen, Aging with Style and Panache

My very unique and special Aunt Helen, my father’s sister, passed away recently at the age of 92. The way she lived her life and especially her senior years influenced my life style as I continue into my senior years.

Difficult Home Life 

Aunt Helen’s parents had a rather tempestuous relationship, which was very stressful for her as a child and young adult. After Grandpapa died at the age of 72, Aunt Helen and her mother, my grandmother, already in her 60’s, began their lives over again.

A New Life 

They lived in an apartment for a while then later bought a house with a pool. We enjoyed many summer days there with them. Because of Aunt Helen’s love for her mother, she chose not to marry and stayed with Grandmother to support her as she aged. The two of them enjoyed going to movies and visiting us kids and later their great grandchildren.

Another Loss, Another New Life

Many years later grandmother passed away after a long illness at 84. Aunt Helen was about 60 at that time and adapted to her new life after grieving for her mother.

My Aunt Helen
My Aunt Helen

I unconsciously incorporated some of her lifestyle into mine after my husband’s illness and death over seven years ago when I was 58. The following are some lifestyle paths she helped me discover.

Be Around People!

Since Aunt Helen loved being around people she chose social activities. Aunt Helen loved to eat out and go see movies with her friends. I always enjoy going out to lunch or movie with a friend too.

Broaden Your Mind

Aunt Helen took classes about computers and art and even painted an ocean, beach scene with oils (which is now mine). I took a water color class along with some other art classes at the local senior center.

My father, her brother, joined Aunt Helen in a class on how to use computers. He was 6 years older than she was! I took a class on how to use WordPress. She also traveled with my parents after us kids were all married.

Volunteer 

Volunteering as a greeter at some community building downtown, kept her active, provided a challenge for her to learn new situations and engaged her in social events. I enjoy volunteering at the Cat Angel Thrift Store every week.

Stay Physically Active

Swimming was one form of exercise that she loved. At the WMCA she found social interaction, exercise and fun. All of this was when she past the age of 60!

My 70 year old Aunt Helen and I posing with veils.
My 70 year old Aunt Helen and I posing with veils.

But she also loved square dancing, dancing the fox trot and samba too. Like my Aunt Helen I enjoyed dancing but dancing of a different kind. I taught myself how to belly dance from videos which I enjoyed during a much earlier period of my life.

On one visit she wanted to learn some about belly dancing too. So I showed her how. We had so much fun that Daddy was so pleased, even though he had dementia, that he took pictures of us posing with veils.

Challenge Your Brain  

We both loved working on crossword puzzles and cryptograms.  I have developed more of an interest in Sudoku, which I play on my Kindle. But I play crosswords with friends on Facebook too.

After her father died she, her mother, and brothers inherited property from which they made their incomes. Aunt Helen showed herself to be a shrewd business woman considering she had had no formal training and was running her rental property on her own with little or no help. That in itself was quite a mental challenge. I started a photography business right before I retired. 

More Losses and Life Changes

Aunt Helen’s love for dancing faded for several years after an auto accident fractured her pelvis in several places. It was then that we discovered she had hidden the early signs of Dementia, which worsened under the stresses of hospitalization. So she needed constant supervision and was placed in a care facility with sitters. Once she recovered physically enough to do so, she began to dance at special occasions there.

I once asked her if she had found any men with whom she could dance at the care facility. Her reply: “No, none of them can keep up with me.”

Keep Your Inner Child Alive

Aunt Helen and great niece.
Aunt Helen and great niece.

She really loved children. A friend, whom we now call, Sister, brought her baby to visit Aunt Helen while she was in the nursing home. Aunt Helen always loved having kids around. She could be really goofy and playful, which is a trait I also inherited. I also can relate well with children and they seem to like me too.

Do Something Surprising  

My Aunt and I shared a wicked sense of humor. She loved to say funny things that you wouldn’t expect her to say and then wait for the surprised look on the other person’s face.

My brother, one sister, her grandchildren and I brought cupcakes to Aunt Helen while she was still in the early phases of dementia. She was eating the cupcake with a fork when my sister reminded her that she could eat the cupcake with her fingers. Aunt Helen didn’t miss a beat and said, “But I don’t eat my fingers!” and waited until we caught on to what she said!

This sense of humor came through to me when I told my second adopted son that I had finally gotten my ears pierced and then shocked him when I told him that I was thinking about getting other body parts pierced. He politely ended our conversation and called my first son and asked if he thought I would follow through on my idea. My first son assured him that I would never do that. Then he called me to be sure! (I was a wicked mother to do that. LOL)

Aunt Helen wasn’t perfect, but who is? She was my Aunt Helen. She was very dear and special to all of her grandkids and great grandkids too. She taught me it is important to adapt to the situation you are placed in and enjoy life, and love your family.

A happy Aunt Helen.
Aunt Helen, six years before her death.

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